AS we head towards the middle of November, thoughts begin to turn to who should be in the running for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award.

The shortlist of candidates hasn’t been announced yet, but the bookmakers reckon it’s a two-horse race between Lewis Hamilton and Anthony Joshua, and they’re not usually too far wrong.

If the award was judged purely on sporting achievement, Hamilton would have to be the winner. His fourth Formula One world title makes him the most successful British driver of all time, and he stands in joint third position on his sport’s all-time list behind Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio. When the pressure was at its most intense this season, he performed superbly.

Loading article content

As its name suggests though, the Sports Personality award has never been a simple measure of sporting achievement and Hamilton falls down in other areas. Aloof and arrogant, he was this week exposed as a tax dodger. The ‘Paradise papers’ revealed that Hamilton avoided a £3.3m VAT bill by effectively renting his £16.5m private jet to himself as part of an elaborate tax avoidance scheme involving shell companies in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Isle of Man and Guernsey. Is that really the type of behaviour the nation should be championing?

Joshua is a more wholesome contender, and his performances in the ring, combined with his engaging personality and challenging upbringing, make him a much more attractive role model.

His explosive victory over Wladimir Klitschko was one of the sporting events of the year, and he has subsequently defended his World title against Carlos Takam. Outside the ring, he is erudite and thoughtful, although at just 28, there is a sense that he is yet to grasp the extent of the opportunities his profile presents.

In time, he could become a hugely influential figure, championing the cause of the excluded and socially deprived that boxing often inspires. Similarly, it is easy to imagine that this is just the start for Joshua in terms of his achievements inside the ring. In the next 12 months, he could easily find himself lining up against Deontay Wilder in a unification bout that would see the winner crowned undisputed champion of the world. For Joshua, the best is still to come.

Which leads me to a rather more left-field candidate who I would like to see honoured when the BBC hold their annual awards bash shortly before Christmas.

In footballing terms, this has not been an especially memorable year for Jermain Defoe. True, he returned to the England squad to score in a World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, but he was relegated with Sunderland in May and has struggled to hold down a place in the Bournemouth team since moving to the south coast in the summer.

In so many other ways though, the 35-year-old has been the most inspiring, uplifting and heart-warming figure in the whole of British sport, and if the BBC award is in any way designed to acknowledge the power and potential of sport as a force for good, he deserves to take the top prize.

Defoe’s relationship with Bradley Lowery generated some of the most powerful sporting images of the last 12 months, and provided a powerful rebuttal to those who claim sports stars in general, and Premier League footballers in particular, are self-centred egotists motivated purely by greed.

We all know the story by now – of Defoe being transfixed when he first came across Bradley in the Stadium of Light dressing room when the six-year-old was a mascot and quickly forming a remarkable emotional bond with the youngster, who lost his battle against neuroblastoma in July – but the effects of the friendship are still being felt.

Defoe didn’t just help provide Bradley with some of the most enjoyable memories of his tragically short life, he also helped transform the profile of a disease that had previously been largely ignored. People know what neuroblastoma is now, and the Bradley Lowery Foundation has already helped others who are experiencing what Bradley and his family had to go through.

Defoe could easily have decided Bradley’s attention was too much. Instead, he made private, unannounced visits to the youngster’s hospital bed, supported his friends and family as his condition deteriorated, and called in favours from clubs and sporting bodies up and down the land to ensure Bradley’s final weeks and months were as happy as they could be.

I was fortunate enough to speak to Defoe about Bradley on a number of occasions, and the depth of his love for ‘his friend’ was unmistakeable. This wasn’t a case of a celebrity courting the limelight – Defoe would have quite happily have shunned all publicity when it came to his meet-ups with Bradley, but his family rightly felt the striker’s profile would help raise awareness of their son’s plight.

He went along with that, and his tearful interview after Bradley’s death was announced remains profoundly moving. That, more than driving a racing car or knocking people out, is what being a sporting personality is all about. It is why Defoe would be a fitting winner at the end of next month.


IF, as is more than likely, England crash out of next summer’s World Cup as soon as they come up against some half-decent opposition, it is to be hoped the inevitable post-mortem mentions tonight’s events at Wembley.

England should be taking on Germany in a rare opportunity for their leading players to test themselves against world-class opponents. Instead, it will be England B.

Fabian Delph, Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane have all pulled out of Gareth Southgate’s squad, and will not be involved in next week’s game against Brazil either. Delph also pulled out of the last England squad, while this is also the second time that Sterling has excused himself from duty under Southgate.

Injuries happen, but Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino has already indicated he expects to have Kane, Alli and Winks available for his side’s game with Arsenal a week tomorrow.

That is unacceptable. I generally disagree when fans moan that players ‘don’t care about playing for England’, but it’s hard to come up with an alternative explanation when so many turn their back on the national team at the same time.

And having tried to offer his players a chance to line up against the best, Southgate can hardly be blamed when some of his leading lights opt to decline the invitation.